Posted March 14, 2019
Editor’s note: This marks the second year that the College of Information and Communications has sent six undergraduate students and two faculty members to South by Southwest to explore emerging trends in media and technology. This year, visual communications senior Kristin Stitzlein shared her experiences with us.
If I could describe my experience at South by Southwest in one phrase, it would be “radically inspired.” When an entire city is completely overrun by thousands of creatives, some of whom are also the world’s leading innovators and entrepreneurs, this is certainly to be expected.
Coming from a diverse array of backgrounds within the College of Information and Communications, our group of six students and two faculty spent the bulk of our five days attending sessions which piqued our specific interests, be it hot topics such as blockchain, coding, typography or film, as well as topics considered more off-the-beaten-path in the world of technology, such as urban planning, artificial pancreases or fashion design.
The different learning tracks made it possible to both dive deeply into the areas we arrived already passionate about and get a taste of concepts we had never before heard of. For me, as a visual communications major, this meant I could attend sessions pertaining to my videography skill set, such as “Immersive Storytelling: Breaking the Fourth Wall,” where I learned for the first time about volumetric filmmaking, a new medium for cinema in which the viewers themselves enter into the scene itself via VR (virtual reality) goggles. Yet the variety of tracks also allowed me to discover a brand new passion of mine — urban planning and design — as I sat in on a session about the social and economic benefits of designing playable cities and spaces.
This notion of incorporating “play” and “immersive experiences” into modern design thinking was a common theme echoed by nearly all of the speakers we heard from, as well as the inspiration for the very landscape of the conference. The city of Austin, Texas, itself became an immersive world of creativity and innovation. Overnight, local restaurants transformed by trading their native colors and décor for the bright yellow of the “Snapchat House” or the sleek, futuristic world of Sony robotics. Throughout each day, we could hardly walk a block before being encouraged by a friendly angel or demon walking his hellhound to visit the “Garden of Earthly Delights,” an empty field turned medieval paradise to promote a new Amazon Prime video series.
Beyond the lectures, film premieres and interactive activation experiences, SXSW also offered us networking experiences unlike any other I have experienced in my undergraduate career. We handed out our business cards and resumes like candy at formal networking opportunities such as the career expo, which included hundreds of design and tech companies. But we also took advantage of informal opportunities, such as staying after sessions to meet the panelists or even simply striking up a conversation with the person standing next to us in line — who just so happened to be a CEO.
As if SXSW itself weren’t enough, our group of students and faculty also had the opportunity to tour IBM’s Austin headquarters, where two of our very own alumni from the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Krystal Webber and Lindsey Barrett, gave us a tour of the innovative superpower that is IBM. We were all left speechless by the creativity and adaptability of the space, which features “make stations” where employees are encouraged to create art pieces to spark their creativity as well as mobile desks and whiteboard walls to encourage collaboration. After the tour, Krystal and Lindsey also sat down with us for nearly an hour to share their invaluable wisdom regarding the transition from college to the working world, key characteristics to look for in the companies we apply to, negotiation tactics, and tips for landing the position we’re chasing after. From this experience, I feel more prepared (and excited!) than ever to enter this next chapter of life after graduation.
UofSC has given me countless opportunities for which to be thankful over the course of the past four years, but this experience of attending SXSW sits unquestionably at the top of the list. Thank you, first and foremost, to the College of Information and Communications and its hardworking faculty for making this trip a logistical reality for us. Thank you to our dean, Tom Reichert, for casting the vision of this ambassador program and for promoting it as a way of integrating the world of cutting-edge technology and strategic thinking into our academic curriculum. And finally, thank you to our two faculty, Sabrina Habib and Elise Lewis, and my fellow student participants for inspiring me as much as the conference itself and for truly making this experience one that I will never forget.
Top photo: (front row, left to right) Drew Hill, Sabrina Habib and Meredith Price. (back row, l to r) Jared Stephens, Carla Fant, Kristin Stitzlein, Elise Lewis and Robert Gamble.